BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) – Texas made good Tuesday on its promise to target a program that protects some immigrants from deportation, leading a seven-state coalition that claims former President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he started the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012.
DACA allows immigrants who were brought to the country as children without legal permission to get driver’s licenses and work permits for two-year renewable periods. There are around 125,000 such immigrants in Texas.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday that seeks an injunction to stop the government from issuing or renewing any DACA permits.
Joined by the attorneys general of fellow Republican-controlled states Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia, Paxton says he is defending the rule of law.
“This lawsuit is emphatically about the rule of law. The policy merits of immigration laws are debated in and decided by Congress. The Executive Branch does not exercise a lawmaking role,” the complaint states.
This is familiar territory for the state.
Texas led a 26-state coalition in 2014 that sued to block the Obama administration’s attempt to expand the eligibility for DACA, and to implement a sister program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, DAPA, that would have shielded parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents from deportation.
The Fifth Circuit agreed with Texas that Obama had overstepped his authority in starting the programs, and the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in June 2016, thereby upholding the Fifth Circuit’s injunction.
Texas did not challenge the original DACA program in the 2014 lawsuit, but it is doing so now.
“Under the Fifth Circuit’s controlling precedent, DACA is unlawful for the same reasons as DAPA and Expanded DACA were unlawful,” the complaint states.
Paxton claims his case has been bolstered by the fact that although the 2012 memo that created DACA stated “[t]his memorandum confers no . . . pathway to citizenship,” as of Aug. 21, 2017, up to 39,514 immigrants had used their DACA status to become lawful permanent residents, and 1,056 immigrants have obtained citizenship.
“Texas has argued for years that the federal executive branch lacks the power to unilaterally grant unlawfully present aliens lawful presence and work authorization,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday.
“Left intact, DACA sets a dangerous precedent by giving the executive branch sweeping authority to ignore the laws enacted by Congress and change our nation’s immigration laws to suit a president’s own policy preferences,” he added.
Texas’ Republican leaders have embraced President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant initiatives. On party lines, GOP state lawmakers passed a law in 2017 that exposes county sheriffs to possible misdemeanor charges if they refuse to detain inmates in the country illegally at the request of immigration agents.
It was the first state to send National Guardsmen to the Mexico border last month after Trump said 4,000 troops were needed to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection catch immigrants trying to get into the country without papers.
But even Trump has said he has a soft spot for the roughly 800,000 immigrants protected from deportation under the program, and has urged Congress to pass legislation to give them a pathway to citizenship.
In addition to suing the U.S., Paxton is also suing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and the heads of the immigration enforcement agencies that report to DHS: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on pending litigation,” a DHS spokeswoman said.
Trump announced last September that he was phasing out DACA after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he did not think he could defend the program in court.
Sessions’ summation came after Paxton and the attorneys general of nine other states sent federal officials a letter in June 2017, threatening to sue if the government did not rescind DACA by Sept. 5.
Trump’s order shut out anybody who had not applied for DACA by Sept. 5, 2017 and gave some immigrants a brief window to reapply.
Under Trump’s phase-out plan, anyone whose DACA permit expired after March 5, 2018 could not reapply.
But federal judges in San Francisco and Brooklyn partially resuscitated the program, issuing nationwide injunctions in January and February that forced the Trump administration to continue accepting renewal applications.
U.S. District Judge John Bates went a step further on April 24, ordering the government to resume taking new DACA applications. Bates stayed his order for 90 days, however, to give the Department of Homeland Security time to “better explain its view that DACA is unlawful.”
Greisa Martinez Rosas, deputy executive director of DACA-advocacy group United We Dream, said in a statement Trump and Republicans in Congress are to blame for blocking legislation to put DACA recipients on the path to permanent lawful status.
“This lawsuit to end DACA is a perfect example of the current Republican priorities: attack and deport people of color and immigrants every chance they get. … It is clear that Republicans will try everything possible to achieve their goal of mass deportation,” she said.